SMETHPORT — The Bradford Era has named McKean County President Judge John Pavlock as the 2017 Newsmaker of the Year in recognition of his efforts to keep local history alive, streamline the county court system and actively support the 3G, CASA and Boondocs programs.
Over the past several years, Pavlock has had active roles in some McKean County Historical Society presentations, the latest being the World War I program last fall when he joined retired President Judge John Yoder and Deborah Babcox, former family law master, as presenters.
"I really enjoyed that program," Pavlock said. "We spoke about the different times of that time, namely the pre-war years, the war itself and then the post-war era."
Pavlock was elected judge of the Court of Common Pleas in 2009 after serving a stint as district attorney. Following some public discussion, Pavlock signed an order creating a Central Court, which meant preliminary hearings are initially scheduled to take place at the McKean County Courthouse.
"On alternate Thursdays, our four magisterial district judges, on a rotating basis, preside over criminal cases in the large courtroom in the courthouse as they determine if there is sufficient evidence for the case to go to the Court of Common Pleas," Pavlock said.
A person charged with a crime has the right to waive or request a preliminary hearing. If the defendant waives the preliminary hearing, the case advances to the county court. However, if a preliminary hearing is requested, then the case is held at the appropriate MDJ’s office.
This revamped system, Pavlock noted, has saved money for both the county and municipalities. By using the courthouse, Central Court proceedings have eliminated the need for police officers and Commonwealth attorneys to travel to the four MDJ offices. Police officers and witnesses will not be required to attend the defendant's first hearing.
In keeping with his belief in focusing on McKean County history and how that relates to domestic and foreign events at any given time, Pavlock said, "We have the same issues now. There's a lot going on nationally — national programs, but I think there's too much emphasis on thinking there's going to be a national or state program that will come along and save the day. It just doesn't work that way."
Pavlock points to the key role of local initiatives, local people working on local issues to get them resolved. How can I help McKean County? What can we do here to make things better?
"And that's the same philosophy when we get to the 3G, or Good Growing Gardens programs, and the Court Appointed Special Advocates — CASA — of which I am very proud,” Pavlock told The Era. "Not for myself, but for the volunteers who got it going."
CASA is a group of trained volunteers appointed by the judge who serve as advocates of abused and neglected children with the ultimate goal of breaking the cycle of child abuse so children can thrive in safe, permanent and nurturing homes.
While there is a national model for CASA, Pavlock said, "It's the local resources that really help and are there as friends and mentors for the children going through the system, giving them some positive guidance and encouragement."
Pavlock spoke about his involvement in establishing the county's CASA program.
Shortly after he was elected to the bench, Pavlock was asked to start a CASA program. Citing the amount of time he was devoting to his new judicial duties and an increased court schedule, Pavlock said he fully supported CASA because of the definite need, but he alone could not build the program's structure.
That's when Kristin Tim, CASA of McKean County's current executive director, entered the picture, and she, along with the current board, established the program.
"And I've given them all the support I can, cooperation and encouragement, but they really got the CASA going with the cooperation of the court," Pavlock noted. "They've done a spectacular job with this program. Getting good volunteers, getting good results, putting in good policy, following procedures for providing timely information to the court, and most importantly, having those volunteers with life experience who can sit down with the youths, talk to them and be a friend and mentor, not always agreeing with them, but making sure someone is there to listen to them as they go through the entire process with them."
Pavlock had to approve establishing CASA of McKean County. He swore in the sixth class of volunteers in early December.
The 3G program is administered by McKean County Adult Probation, with many members of that agency's staff assisting with the program.
Since the program’s creation, community service individuals sentenced by the court have been involved in many projects at former county poor farm in Smethport. This includes planting and harvesting vegetables, rehabilitating the original barn, constructing a foot bridge and the Orchard Trail System. The community service participants also planted the 219 Welcoming Garden in Bradford and the attractive flower garden at the McKean County Fairgrounds, as well as producing barn crafted furniture.
Since becoming judge, Pavlock said he disagrees with paying for something and getting nothing in return.
"We pay for the criminal justice system,” he said. “We pay to house defendants. We pay to supervise defendants. What do we get in return for that? Hopefully, we get rehabilitation, reduced crime and punishment, in addition to deterrence. Why can't the individuals being sentenced pay back in a different way when appropriate?'
According to Pavlock, the 3G program and community service aren't for every defendant, but there are certain ones who can be given the opportunity to say, "I've made a mistake, but I can do something meaningful. It might be in addition to jail time or in lieu of jail time, but give me the chance to show I can do something good. I can pay for the crime I committed in a different way."
"And that's what the 3G program allows some defendants to do," Pavlock added. "Not to just talk about being productive, but actually doing it.
"To build a walking path that all our citizens can use to grow produce for the jail, to rehab an old barn that was falling down and restore it to life, to plant the gardens. That's us supervising, making sure that individuals follow their rehabilitation plans and giving them a way to repay the community, while doing something special with our unique resources."
Twenty-six years ago, then-McKean County President Judge John Cleland began the Boondocs program, which is another example of participants paying back to the county in another way. Juveniles, some of whom have been through the delinquency and dependency systems, work during the summer on conservation projects, such as streambank preservation.
"There are also cases when the youths assist the Good Growing Gardens program from time to time throughout the summer," said Teresa Wilcox, chief juvenile probation officer.
Wilcox also noted that Pavlock, when he was district attorney, helped with funding Boondocs by earmarking a portion of the Norfolk Southern train derailment settlement specifically for the program for paying youth salaries or purchasing materials when needed. Other funds come from grants. There are limited to no funds from the county.
Participating in Boondocs is hard work.
"The juveniles have to show up for the jobs," Pavlock stated. "They do get paid per hour, but they must pay off fines, costs and restitution with this money, with restitution being the top priority."
There's nothing such as a 100 percent cure-all, Pavlock said, but if the youths want to have the benefit of learning about hard work and teamwork, they have it. It's their choice whether they want to use these examples in the future. Without these lessons, their lives might be very different."
Not every juvenile who goes through the program succeeds, but there's a certain percentage of them who complete it who realize how it's changed their lives for the better.
Boondocs gets updated. Changes are made when necessary, but the core of the program remains: the benefits of hard work and working as a team.
Wilcox said, "Judge Pavlock has been very supportive of the Boondocs program and the outcomes McKean County has seen with the Children and Youth Services and Juvenile Probation youths who have participated in the program over the years."
From its beginning, Boondocs has been quite successful, even gaining statewide attention and awards, Pavlock said, adding, "Other counties look at it and say, 'Look at those positive things they're doing in McKean County,' and we're very proud of that."